“Whenever I entered the court, I was submerged with fear” – Justice Needs of Rwandan Victim-Survivors of Sexual-violence and their Experiences with the Gacaca Courts
Dr Judith Rafferty1
1James Cook University, Cairns, Australia
This presentation discusses the findings of research investigating the justice needs of female victim-survivors of conflict-related sexual violence and exploring their experiences with transitional justice processes. The research focuses on the needs and experiences of Rwandan female victim-survivors who suffered sexual violence during the Genocide against the Tutsi in 1994 and who had their case(s) tried at one of Rwanda’s local gacaca courts. The gacaca court system was established in 2001 by the Rwandan government to deal with genocide-related crimes with the intent to reveal the truth, end the ‘culture of impunity’ and promote both justice and reconciliation.
The research was informed by phenomenological and feminist methodologies, utilised a qualitative approach and is based on semi-structured interviews with 23 Rwandan victim-survivors, conducted by the presenter in 2015/2016 with the assistance of a Kinyarwanda speaker. The interviews focused on exploring the women’s motivations to participate in gacaca and their experiences with the process. The analysis of the interviews revealed a comprehensive set of justice needs of the interviewees, which are distinguished as process-related and outcome-related justice needs. This presentation will focus on the interviewees’ process-related justice needs, which include “an enabling environment” (comprising both supportive procedures and supportive treatment by authorities involved in a justice process), opportunities for participation, as well as information and support regarding their cases. The research findings allow for the identification of several characteristics and procedures of justice initiatives to support victim-survivors to participate in justice processes in other settings. This presentation will discuss the interviewees’ process-related justice needs, how these were considered at the gacaca courts, as well as implications of the research for the design of future justice processes.
Judith Rafferty is a Senior Lecturer in the Conflict Management and Resolution program at James Cook University (JCU). She completed her PhD (JCU) analysing the experiences of female victim-survivors of conflict-related sexual violence with transitional justice processes. Her PhD focuses on Rwandan women who survived sexual violence during the Genocide against the Tutsi and who had their case(s) tried at one of Rwanda’s local gacaca courts. Judith has an honours degree in Economics (University of Applied Science Gelsenkirchen, Germany) and holds a Master of Conflict and Dispute Resolution (JCU). Judith is also a nationally accredited mediator and conflict coach.